This post is part of a series dedicated to Sherwood Anderson: Collected Stories, from The Library of America. “Nobody Knows” comes from Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. For an introduction to this series and for links to the other posts, please click here.
After several pieces where George Willard plays a part in someone else’s story, here we finally get one — albeit a very short one — in which we follow George as he goes through an evening “adventure.” Interestingly, despite the fact that he’s the central character in “Nobody Knows,” even being the character who mutters the title, this story is titled “concerning Louise Trunnion.” The fact that Louise is barely present in her a story that is ostensibly about her says a lot about this poor young woman. It also says a lot about the young, immature George Willard.
When the story begins, George Willard has just finished his day at work for the Winesburg Eagle. He looks “cautiously about” and goes “hurriedly” out into the warm evening. He’s nervous: “All day he had gone about his work like one dazed by a blow. In the alleyway he trembled as though with fright.”
George has been thinking of his adventure all day, trying to work up the courage to go through with it, frightened that he will back down. In the end, Anderson lets us know, George didn’t so much decide to go on this adventure as suddenly act, almost as if by compulsion. Earlier, George had received a simple letter from Louise Trunnion: “I’m yours if you want me.”
Besides being frightened of setting the evening in motion, George doesn’t seem sure if he wants Louise — but we know what he does want. Nervously, he arrives at Louise’s house and, after hesitating for five minutes, calls out to her with a broken voice, and their night begins.
You know what happens, though Anderson does not spell out the act itself. We see George stop trembling with shyness and, with courage that stems from the “whispered tales concerning her that had gone about town,” he finally takes Louise’s hand.
As far as the story goes, that’s about it. It ends with a coda as George goes to his own home, “satisfied,” wanting “more than anything else to talk to some man.” Nervousness almost sets in again before George brushes it aside, saying, “She hasn’t got anything on me. Nobody knows.”
But, to reiterate, even though we’re following George Willard in this story and we watch him triumphantly return to his home, this is still a story about a person who looks to George for what seems to be his natural receptiveness. Louise Trunnion is never given the spotlight. We know she’s written the note, but other than that she says only two things. First, when he calls to her she looks out and says, “How do you know I want to go out with you? What makes you so sure?” And, later, while George is trying to find the boldness he needs to touch her, she says, “You think you’re better than I am. Don’t tell me, I guess I know.” She says this while drawing closer to him.
To be fair, we don’t know if Louise is a lonely soul seeking some one who will love her. But these quotations seem to be the tell-tale signs of insecurity and loneliness, and perhaps, like several of the other characters in the book, Louise recognizes in George Willard some kind of receptiveness. It’s just too bad for her that at this point George is only interested in sex.
This story makes us rethink what we know of George Willard. He’s a listener. He enjoys receiving the lives of others and hopes to be a writer. But if we’ve been thinking of him as somehow sympathetic, it’s time to reconsider. George is young; we’ll see him mature. But at this point, as we see here, George is not yet able to comprehend why people come to him, and he is completely capable of using these people for his own ends, whether these ends be his own sexual gratification, as here, or his own artistic yearnings, as with most anyone in we’ve met so far
And just look, even this post on a story about Louise Trunnion has turned into an analysis of George’s character, how we see George when refracted through her. If that’s not a sure sign that Louise is at least severely neglected, I don’t know what is.